Bloomberg School rejects tobacco-funded foundation

By TRISHA PARAYIL | February 8, 2018

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FILE PHOTO Philp Morris International produces brands like Marlboro and Bond Street.

The Bloomberg School of Public Health announced on Jan. 25 that it will refuse to accept funds from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, an anti-tobacco organization which has ties to global tobacco magnate Philip Morris International (PMI). 

Ellen MacKenzie, dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, signed a statement alongside representatives of 16 other schools, including Harvard University and the University of Maryland, condemning the Foundation for accepting nearly $1 billion from PMI, the maker of Marlboro and other major cigarette brands.

The Institute for Global Tobacco Control, an affiliate of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, seeks to prevent death and disease caused by tobacco products across the world through research on tobacco control policies that can reduce smoking.

Joanna Cohen, the director of the Institute, said that she fully supports MacKenzie’s decision.

“The Bloomberg School has had a policy to not accept tobacco money for quite a long time,” she said. “But if you get money from the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, and PMI gives money to the Foundation, it is still an indirect [transfer]. Nothing about the policy has changed.” 

MacKenzie is concerned that the Foundation’s close ties to PMI might affect the integrity of the Foundation’s research. In an email to The News-Letter, she wrote that she was proud to stand alongside the other deans against the Foundation.

“The Philip Morris-funded ‘Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’ drew our attention because of the long history of efforts by this tobacco company to undermine effective and evidence-based public health policies,” she wrote.

The mission of the Foundation, as stated on its website, is to support research to advance smoking cessation, promote harm-reduction and prevention methods, and prepare tobacco farmers for reduced demand. 

In September, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report titled “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control” which condemned the Foundation for working in the interests of the tobacco industry, which it alleged are antithetical to those of public health. 

Derek Yach, president of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World and a former senior official at the WHO, argued against those claims.

“PMI have absolutely no involvement, influence or control over the Foundation,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

According to the Foundation’s bylaws, they will consult an independent review panel in the allocation of grant funding for research projects and require grant recipients to make their raw data available for peer review.

Yach compared the Foundation’s independence to the Truth Initiative, a campaign from the American Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit tobacco control organization established from a settlement after 46 states sued four tobacco conglomerates for the cost of healthcare for tobacco-related disease.

Cohen did not see similarities between the two foundations.

“In the case of the Truth Initiative, tobacco companies were forced to pay those funds though a legal settlement,” she said. “In the case of the Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, this is a voluntary contribution from Philip Morris International.”

Frances Stillman, an associate professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and former director of the Institute for Global Tobacco Control, agreed with Cohen that it was not fair to compare the Foundation to the Truth Initiative.

“I think they are very different,” Stillman said. “I had funding and other researchers had funding from Legacy, but we wouldn’t consider accepting funding from this foundation as it stands.”

Cohen said that PMI has an ulterior motive in helping to establish the Foundation, specifically related to a new product that PMI is marketing that does not release smoke but a nicotine-containing vapor.

According to Cohen, the name ‘Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’ rather than ‘Foundation for a Tobacco-Free World’ indicates that the Foundation was set-up as a way to market products that do not cause smoke. 

“It is very important for institutions to stay away from being an accomplice in the tobacco industry’s efforts to promote their products,” Cohen said.

Rushabh Doshi, executive secretary of the Student Government Association (SGA) and co-president of the anti-smoking student group Hopkins Kicks Butts, believes that the sentiment behind MacKenzie’s statement should extend to a University-wide smoking policy. 

“What Dean MacKenzie has done by rejecting the funding from the Foundation should set a precedent,” he said. 

Some members of SGA have campaigned to make the Homewood Campus tobacco-free but face opposition from some students and faculty. 

“In our talks with the administration, they have been open to our ideas,” Doshi said. “The problem is with the students, and that’s where the SGA comes in.”

Anthony Boutros, the sophomore class president and a co-president of Hopkins Kicks Butts, also supports the initiative to make the campus tobacco-free.

“We need to ban tobacco products, and we need to make sure that people who do use tobacco products, if they choose, have access to effective resources to be able to stop,” Boutros said.

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